Meet the young face of Rheumatic Heart Disease

Fat Mum Slim, Chantelle Ellem, reflects on her trip to Bathurst Island to help raise awareness of Rheumatic Heart Disease among the community by screening the Take Heart documentary.

Can you count how many sore throats you've had in your lifetime? I'm betting you can't - you’ve probably had too many to count.

But would you believe me if I told you that the common sore throat could potentially lead to a life-threatening heart disease?

I know it may be hard to believe, but it's a reality for tens of thousands of Indigenous Australians living around the country. 
Two brothers hanging out

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) mostly affects children aged 5 to 15 years. It starts off as a common strep infection causing a sore throat, which if left untreated develops into rheumatic fever which damages the valves in the heart. 

An episode or repeated bouts of rheumatic fever leads to RHD. The disease is 100% preventable, but sadly not curable once it has developed.

It's estimated that 2% of all Indigenous Australians suffer from RHD. Despite this prevalence, many Indigenous Australians don’t know what causes it and how they can easily prevent it from developing.

Meet Trenton

Trenton a boy living with RHD
Trenton lives on Bathurst Island, around 80 kilometres north of Darwin. It's home to many Aboriginal families, and is a playground to hundreds of Aboriginal children who love to hunt and create adventures together on the land.

He's an average eight year old boy who likes to play, kick a ball around with his mates, and get up to a little mischief (as many eight year old boys tend to). Trenton also has RHD, and a large scar down his chest from surgery.

Trenton's illness started when he was just seven, presenting as a sore throat resulting in Acute Rheumatic Fever and then RHD. Sadly, Trenton had to undergo cardiac surgery to manage his heart condition and is now on a strict program of penicillin injections every four weeks. The injection program is so vital for managing RHD that skipping one dose, or delaying it by a few days, can result in severe illness, or worse, more surgery.

Take Heart and raising awareness

Fat Mum Slim with the kids
In March, a few of the Bupa team and I made the trip up north to Bathurst Island to help raise awareness of RHD among the community by screening Take Heart. A new documentary film which shares the story of young Aboriginal people who have RHD. Take Heart also puts a spotlight on the treatment process and why it's so important to put a stop to RHD before it even starts.
 
After the annual football grand final, a massive event on the island with everyone coming out to watch, the Bupa team as well as a host of local nurses, the Take Heart filmmakers and Dr Bo Remenyi, held a screening of the Take Heart documentary for the kids after a dinner. 
Take Heart BBQ with Bupa
As we packed up the chairs and put away the BBQ I could spot three boys playing with the football scoreboard and having fun, laughing and chatting among themselves. I walked over to chat to them, and I recognised Trenton because of the scar down the middle of his chest. 

I was glad to see him playing with his friends and having fun like other 8 year old boys as that was his wish when he was unwell. Thanks to his regular attendance for the unpleasant but necessary penicillin injections and looking after his health he is able to do just that. 

After two days on the island we were able to see the difference we’d helped make. It was small, but we could see the seeds being planted. The kids were more aware RHD, the  symptoms, as well as the treatment process. They knew that if a friend or family member had a sore throat, they should encourage them to go to the island's nurse to get checked over. 

Hopefully more conversations will take place over time around RHD, and as an increase in awareness occurs there may be a corresponding decrease in this preventable condition.

How can I help?

Take Heart CTA
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